Holy Week
Gospel Readings

Holy Week Gospel Readings

Set some time aside each day during Holy Week to read the Gospel reading for the day, remembering that in his word our Lord is truly present.

Make sure that you are comfortable. Perhaps light a candle. Make the sign of the cross † and remain still for a minute of settling silence. Then read the Gospel, preferably aloud and slowly, and pay attention to any words that stand out. If any do, meditate on them for a few minutes and be invited into a dialogue with God.

After spending a few minutes considering the Gospel, continue by reading Dom Henry Wansbrough’s reflection.

Conclude by asking God to bless you with one of the following spiritual gifts: love, understanding, wisdom, faithfulness, peace, self control, patience, or joy.

To read the relevant Gospel passage just click on the reference.

The readings for Palm Sunday are on our Sunday Readings Commentary page.

Please note that there is no reading for Holy Saturday as by tradition the Eucharist is not celebrated on this day.

Monday of Holy Week

This is the story of the anointing of Jesus’ feet with costly ointment at Bethany. In Mark and Matthew the woman is unnamed, but John names her as Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus. John is more familiar with Jerusalem and its environs than are the Synoptics, and may have the family as his source.

Mary’s act of loving, personal affection and devotion is treasured. The evangelist’s comment that the scent filled the house shows a touching approval too. It will be remembered that Mary was the sister who stayed listening at Jesus’ side while Martha busied herself with practical details. This casts her as a figure of prayer and listening – perhaps a patron of lectio divina? Her sign of affection must have been valuable to Jesus as he rested at Bethany after the threatening controversies in the Temple. His response shows just how tense Jesus must have been. In the Gospel of Mark he responds that Mary’s loving tribute will be remembered wherever the gospel is proclaimed. At this tense moment it makes Judas’ response seem unimaginative and brutal – no matter how practical it might have been on other occasions.

It is always a problem to decide how to apportion gifts, how much to the poor and how much in precious objects to enhance the liturgy and devotion in prayer. There were no gold chalices or silver candlesticks at the Last Supper, but these things are expressions of love and reverence, and also of appreciation of God’s gifts of natural and artistic beauty – even if they receive no mention in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats.


Tuesday of Holy Week

Rather than telling us the story of the Last Supper, the Gospels give us only two incidents at the Supper, the marking of the traitor and the Institution of the Eucharist. The latter is absent from John, who gave us the Bread of Life discourse, but reserves the sacraments till after the death of Jesus and the foundation of the Church. John identifies the traitor, but the synoptic Gospels stress not his identity by name but the treachery of his deed as one who dips his hand in the dish with Jesus and immediately betrays this gesture of fellowship.

The Church puts before us the failure of the disciples, led by Peter. Throughout Jesus’s ministry this has been a theme, especially in Mark. Three times the disciples are rebuked for their failure to understand who Jesus is, each time on the Lake of Galilee, before – immediately after the gift of sight to the blind man of Bethsaida – Peter bursts out with his profession of faith, ‘You are the Christ/Messiah’ (Mark 8.29). After this turning-point of the Gospel, again three times they fail to grasp the teaching on suffering, that as Messiah Jesus can accomplish his mission only by suffering and death, and that his disciples must share this suffering. The theme reaches its climax with Peter’s repeated protestation at the Supper that he is ready to die with Jesus, and his panicked denial when he is accosted by the diminutive servant-girl in the High Priest’s house. In John at any rate we hear the story of his repentance and response to the Risen Christ’s threefold challenge at the Lakeside. The prominence given to this theme is surely a reminder that the Twelve are role-models for future disciples even in their failure – and in their repentance. Did Jesus choose them badly, or are they merely forerunners of our own failures? Perfection is less important than repentance.


Wednesday of Holy Week

This gospel commemorates the first part of the Last Supper, the preparation and the betrayal.

The strange pre-planned sequence of Jesus sending his disciples to encounter a seemingly random stranger in the city occurs both for Jesus’ solemn donkey-ride into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and for the preparation of a room for the Last Supper. These are evidence both of Jesus’ foreknowledge and of God’s own pre-planning: it was pre-destined that these events should take place as they did. The events of Jesus’ life, but especially those of his Passion, Death and Resurrection, were the culmination of God’s plan, expressed from ages earlier in the scriptures. The way this is shown is by relating even details of the happenings to the scriptures. So in the earliest tradition, quoted by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15.3-5, Christ died and rose again, both ‘according to the scriptures’. A great deal of study must have gone into finding in the scriptures exact equivalences to such details! So the thirty pieces of silver paid for the betrayal of Jesus is in Exodus 21.32 the compensation to be paid for a slave gored by an ox. Similarly, when Judas commits suicide by hanging himself, he is imitating Ahithophel who counselled Absalom how to entrap David – advice which Absalom stupidly disregarded.

Why did Judas betray his Master? Countless conflicting character-studies have been built on the flimsiest of evidence. Was it simply for thirty pieces of silver, or is his greed a subsequent development? It is not mentioned by the synoptic Gospels. Was Judas a convinced nationalist fighter (his name is nationalist) who abandoned Jesus in frustration when he perceived that Jesus was not a political liberator who would expel the Romans?


Maundy Thursday

The feast of the Passover was taken up by Jesus as the occasion for him to make his own new covenant, fulfilling the promises made by the prophets of a new covenant to replace the old covenant so definitively broken at the time of the Babylonian Exile. Jesus himself was the lamb who was to be sacrificed, and his new covenant was sealed, not in blood sprinkled but in his own blood consumed. It was a ‘memorial’, that is, an effective re-enactment, actually renewing the act of dedication and union.

Jesus’s extraordinary gesture recorded in the Gospel of John shows us the full meaning of what he was doing. The narrative stresses that Jesus knew what was to come; he was showing his disciples the meaning of the events. By the act of rising from the table and performing the demeaning act of stripping down and washing the feet of his followers, his guests, he was showing the meaning of the dire events to come – Peter’s horror says it all, but there was far worse to come. It was a pre-enactment of his great act of serving his community, the new family which he was binding to himself by this new covenant, the foundational act of service in the Church.


Good Friday

John’s narrative of the Passion is different from that of the synoptic Gospels in important respects. Some of these differences are matters of emphasis, others spring from a set of different facts. After Caiaphas’s decision no Jewish trial scene before the high priest, no meeting of a Sanhedrin to prepare a charge to put before Pilate, was necessary. Instead John gives an interrogation before Annas, the ex-high priest and father-in-law of Caiaphas. The trial before Pilate may well be built on the same incident as that of the synoptics, but in John it is highly elaborated for theological reasons.

The Johannine account is not the story of a condemned criminal being dragged to the disgraceful and tortured death reserved for slaves. Jesus is the majestic king, who proceeds royally to his triumph in death. There is no painful prayer for release in Gethsemane. From the beginning it is stressed that Jesus is fully aware of what is to happen. Before he can be arrested his captors repeatedly fall to the ground in an involuntary gesture of reverence at Jesus’s pronouncement of the divine name, “I am”. Jesus commands them to let his followers go, and is taken only when he gives the word (John 18:11). The humiliating elements of the other accounts, such as buffeting, spitting and the challenge to prophesy, have disappeared. Jesus is emphatically declared king in the three great world languages by the very man who condemns him to death (John 19:20-22). John even notes that the proclamation was publicly acknowledged by “many of the Jews”. not only is Jesus king; he continues his role as revealer and judge as well. In the interview with Annas it is Jesus who challenges and questions the high priest, reiterating his own teaching which he has given for all the world to hear. Similarly at the trial before Pilate, Jesus questions the governor and shows his control, until Pilate collapses with the feeble evasion, “What is truth?” – a humiliating self-condemnation in this gospel of truth. The judgement reaches its climax when the Jewish leaders, in a formal and balanced scene, condemn themselves before Jesus: he is enthroned on the judgement seat as judge and crowned – with thorns – as king, still wearing the royal purple robe of his mockery, while they deny the very existence of Judaism by declaring, “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15). If the God of Israel is not universal king, then Israel has no point or purpose.

The final scene has special significance. Jesus carries his own cross, unaided, and is enthroned on it – no agonising details of nailing and hoisting – between two attendants. There is no final psalm quotation of seeming despair (as in Mark and Matthew) or of resignation (as in Luke), no wordless “great cry” as Jesus expires. In John Jesus prepares the community of the future. In contrast to the other Gospels, Mary and the Beloved Disciple stand at the foot of the cross and are entrusted to each other’s care to constitute the first Christian community, the woman and the man, the mother and the ideal disciple. This is cemented by the gift of the Spirit, as Jesus – with typical Johannine ambiguity – “gave over his spirit”. Does this mean “breathed his last” or “gave them the Holy Spirit”? Only then does Jesus consent to die, with the words, “It is fulfilled”.